Ashton Powell

Addressing the Achievement Gap


The achievement gap is not just a representation of how a school system treats minority children, it shows us the systemic racism and bigotry present across most every aspect of American society.  Blame for the gap should not be placed on our schools alone, as many additional factors and systems contribute to this measure of inequity.  But I believe schools have an obligation to address these issues as we are one the few institutions able to incorporate advances in our social moral consciousness with expedience.  Unfortunately, a perfect school district and curriculum will not be able to directly impact the many systems of inequity and racism our students face every day.  That is why we need to prepare all of our students to build a more equitable society through concepts of shared governance, inclusion throughout curricula, and appropriate expectations of student responsibility.

By many reasonable measures, our district should be a leader in eradicating the gap due to the many things we have going for us: we have significant funding compared to most, are a community built around education, and have a population that is increasingly diverse.  Importantly, our local politics suggest that this district has the legitimate interest in ensuring equity across all human definitions of identity. But yet our schools have both one of the largest achievement gaps in the state as well as some of the lowest performance of Black and Hispanic students as shown by College and Career Ready measures. 

I have been fortunate to have received Groundwater Training from the REI as well as a session by We Are on Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.  Please follow these links to understand the basis upon which I am approaching these issues.  

I will look to address the achievement gap in the following ways:

1.     Strengthening shared governance to better include the voices of faculty, staff, students, and parents in the decision-making processes will help us better understand and address the inequities our students face.  During one school board meeting this year, it was noted that the student body representative had not spoken before the board during their brief allotment the entire year.  That is not an example of good governance, either in representation or expectation.  We need to make clear that the student voice is necessary for us to properly serve the district.  The voices of teachers, staff, and parents must also be heard more than during a public comment session at a meeting.  This must also happen at a school level.  We need a more formalized structure of governance that ensures all stake holders can be deliberative BEFORE items have reached the level of the board.  Proper shared governance will not solve all problems, but it can lead to identification of issues and empathy between groups.  

2.     Culturally relevant classes, assignments, and pedagogy are essential for bringing children into the fold of a school.  Acknowledging the differences between our communities and celebrating them through our delivery and communication of lessons is essential. If a student cannot see themselves in the topic at hand, it is significantly more difficult for them to engage and succeed.  Student see themselves in a topic not just by the pedagogy, but also by the challenge itself.  Some students need more difficult work while others need more help.  Tuning the work to best fit each student should be a goal for us to achieve, although remaining aware of bias will be essential.

3.     Expectations of progress and success for our students must be built primarily around factors the school is able to control. If our schools define student success upon significant external contributions, then we are baking societal inequity into the equation.  For example, if we require a computer and internet access to succeed in a class, then it is our obligation to supplement families that cannot meet this expectation.  If direct adult engagement is required for a student to perform their homework or to learn a topic outside of school, and the school should look to provide support for students who do not have these resources.  I know about this from personal experience.  Despite my PhD in Neurobiology from UNC, I have sometimes had difficulty helping my son with his second grade math homework because the word problems were in Spanish.  This personal challenge of ours is dwarfed by similar challenges across our district, especially if materials sent home are not presented in a families preferred language.  We must ensure that the requirements of out of school work represent the community.